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11/14/2005

The Collins Boys

The recent issue of the Kansas Cowboy continues our efforts to keep the old Cowboy stories alive. Weve got a couple of ranch histories. Theres the continuing saga of the 2005 Zerfari along the old Smoky Hill Trail. We chronicle the year 1867 as the conflict of cultures brought blood to the prairie with a great Indian War.  
 
The lead article entitled The Good and the Bad, The Collins Brothers of Texas is one of those pieces that brings together a history that has become more legend than fact. Most everyone has heard of Sam Bass, the Robin Hood of Texas. Sam found himself caught up in the underworld of frontier horse racing. He and Joel Collins were always looking for that pot at the end of the rainbow that would allow them to keep playing while the working folks kept them in tall cotton. Sam and the boys of his outlaw band were immortalized in an old Western song entitled, Sam Bass. 
 
I had always wanted to write a story about Joel Collins and his association with Bass. For years I looked for the opportunity to tell Joels story but the pieces didnt quite all fit together until I delved into his story in earnest this summer. Joel and Sam botched a legitimate cattle deal by taking the money from the sale to Deadwood hoping to swell good dollars into a fortune. As with most get-rich schemes, the boys found themselves dead broke.  
 
Thats when they turned to robbin trains. And boy howdy did they hit the jackpot! The Union Pacific Train was held up just west of Ogallala, Nebraska, and just happened to be carrying $60,000 in gold pieces. The gang of six outlaws split up in pairs. Joel rode south along one of the branches of the Western Cattle trail with a partner by the name of Bill Heffridge. At a little Kansas Pacific railroad station called Buffalo the boys were recognized. Ellis County Sheriff George Bardsley rode out onto the prairie to talk to the boys who were already saddled up and headed to Texas. Bardsley was accompanied by 10 cavalry troopers out of Fort Hays. Bardsley convinced the boys to return to the station for questioning. Collins and Heffridge seemed calm and innocent as they turned toward Buffalo, but suddenly Joel pulled his pistol while shouting, By God! Lets die game! The outlaws were shot from the saddle before they fired a shot.  
 
The story is that Collins and Heffridge were taken to Ellis, Kansas, to be identified and there they were buried. So, I traveled to Ellis and found the old section of the cemetery to be on a hillside with dozens of unmarked graves. The outlaws lie under the sod on that hill, but no one thought to record their last resting place.  
 
But Joel is only a part of the story. There was older brother Joe who was a well respected cattleman and then there were other brothers. When Sam Bass returned to Texas he gathered up a new band of outlaws which just happened to be Joels brothers, Billy and Henry. Just what were their stories? Well, theirs was an outlaw life of adventure for a few short months. Lets just say, they caused their good parents a lot of grief. Every issue of the Kansas Cowboy brings to light the stories that are rarely told. You can get your very own copy by sendin $18.67 our way. Just click Join The Cowboy Society on the right. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy  

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